The Judas Strain

Page 14

But Asian Anni had vanished inside.

His shots ricocheted off the van. Like the president's med van, this one was armor-plated.

Gray yelled. "Everyone inside the car! Now!"

His mother appeared at the kitchen door, holding a smoking pistol. She had her purse over her other arm, as if she were going out for groceries.

"C'mon, Harriet," his father said. He reached up and hauled her toward the passenger door.

Kowalski leaped headlong into the backseat. Gray feared his bulk might finish Seichan off quicker than anything Nasser planned.

Gray vaulted over into the front seat and crashed hard. He twisted the key, still in the ignition, and the hot engine roared.

The passenger door slammed. Both his parents crowded the one seat.

Gray glanced into the rearview mirror.

Anni stood braced in the opening of the van. She balanced a rocket launcher on her shoulder.

The show is Anni Get Your Gun—not rocket launcher, you bitch!

Gray shifted into gear and slammed the accelerator. Three hundred horses burned the rear tires, rubber smoking and screaming.

His father groaned from the next seat—Gray suspected more about the wear on the glossy new tires than his own safety.

The wheels finally caught a grip, and the Thunderbird leaped forward, crashing through the wooden gate to the backyard. Once through, Gray yanked the wheel hard to avoid hitting a massive hundred-year-old oak. The tires dug a half-doughnut trench across the rear lawn, then sped them deeper into the yard.

Behind them, a sonorous whoosh was followed by a fiery explosion.

The rocket struck the large oak, blasting it to a ruin of flaming branches and bark. Blazing debris shot high. Smoke rolled.

Without glancing back, Gray punched the accelerator.

The Thunderbird smashed through the back fence and barreled into the woodlands of Glover-Archibold Park.

But Gray knew one certainty.

The hunt was just beginning.






High-Sea Piracy

July 5, 12:11 p.m. Christmas Island

Boxers and boots.

That's all that stood between Monk and a sea of cannibal crabs. The feeding frenzy continued throughout the jungle, fighting, clacking, ripping. It sounded like the crackle of a forest fire.

Stripped, with his bio-suit in hand, Monk crossed back to Dr. Richard Graff. The marine researcher crouched at the edge of the jungle. He had also removed his bio-suit as instructed by Monk, wincing as he pulled the plastic fabric from his wounded shoulder. At least the marine researcher was better dressed, in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.

Monk's nose crinkled as he stepped up to him. Out from beneath the thicker jungle canopy, the air burned, and the stench of the dead pool below was like being slapped in the face with a rotting salmon.

"Time to go," Monk said with a scowl.

A shout echoed up from the tunnel that led down to the toxic beach. The pirates were approaching more carefully, cautious. Graff, stationed there, had been lobbing chunks of limestone down the tunnel. Moreover their pursuers didn't know that Monk's pistol was down to one shot. But fear and rock throwing would only hold the pirates off for so long.

For the hundredth time Monk wondered at the strange persistence of their attackers. Hunger and desperation certainly made men do stupid things. But if the pirates wanted to raid and steal the Zodiac, to get ahold of their supplies and equipment for the Indonesian black market, then nothing was now stopping them. Most of these local pirates, brutal and ruthless as they might be, operated on a smash-and-grab modus operandi.

So why this persistence? To just silence them, to cover their tracks? Or was it something more personal? Monk pictured the one masked man toppling into the waters, clipped by one of his wild shots. Or was it revenge?

Whatever the reason, the raiding party was not settling for just the spoils— they wanted blood.

Graff choked at the burning air as he straightened. "Where are we going?"

"Back to visit our friends."

Monk led Graff into the jungle fringe. Steps away, the crimson sea of crabs chattered and clattered. If anything, their numbers had grown over the past few minutes, perhaps drawn by their voices or the fresh blood from Graff's seeping shoulder.

The marine researcher balked at the edge of the clearing. "There's no way through those crabs. Those giant claws can rip through leather. I've seen them take off fingers."

And they were fast.

Monk danced back as a pair of crabs, locked in mortal combat, rushed past them, sharp legs a blur, as fast as any jackrabbit.

"It's not like we have much choice," Monk said.

"And there's something wrong with these crabs," the researcher continued. "I've witnessed some of their aggression during migrations, but nothing of this caliber."

"You can psychoanalyze them later." Monk pointed to a large neighboring tree. A Tahitian chestnut. The evergreen was draped with many low branches. "Can you climb that?"

Graff clutched his wounded arm to his belly, trying to keep from moving it too much. "I'll need help. But why? It won't hide us from the pirates. We'll be sitting ducks."

"Just climb." Monk walked him to the tree and helped him scale the first few terraces. The branches were thick and easy to grab. Graff managed well even on his own, climbing higher.

Monk dropped down, landing near a crab. It raised both pincers in threat. No leaving the party early, buddy. Monk kicked him back into the hordes of his brethren, then called back to Graff. "Can you see the tunnel opening?"

"I think . . . yes, I can." Graff shifted in the tree. "You're not leaving me up here, are you?"

"Just whistle when you see the pirates."

"What are you—?"

"Just do it, for Christ's sake!" Monk regretted the harshness of his tone. He had to remind himself that the man was not military. But Monk's mind was stacked with worries of his own. He pictured his wife and baby girl. He was not about to lose his life to a bunch of cutthroats or a forest full of Red Lobster entrees.

Monk crossed to the jungle clearing and stepped to the edge of the churning, snapping horde. He lifted his pistol in one hand and balanced his grip with his prosthetic one. He tilted his head and breathed through his nose.

C'mon, let's see what you got. . .

He heard a noise from the chestnut tree behind him. It sounded like air leaking out of a half-deflated balloon.

"They're coming!" he heard the man whisper, tension plainly sucking the wind out of his whistle.

Monk aimed across the clearing. He had one round, one shot.

Across the forest glade a pair of air tanks rested against the foot of a boulder. Earlier, as they were stripping out of their suits, Monk had Graff pass him his bio-suit's air tank. The portable air cartridges were lightweight, constructed of an aluminum alloy. Using the ankle holster from his pistol, Monk had quickly bound the doctor's tank together with his own and pitched the package in an underhanded throw across to the far side of the jungle clearing. The tanks had crashed amid the crabs, crushing a pair and sending their neighbors scurrying.

Monk took a bead upon the tanks now, steadying his aim with both flesh and prosthetics.

"They're here!" Graff moaned.

Monk squeezed the trigger.

The blast froze the image in his mind for a split second—then one of the pressurized tanks spat a brief flash of flame. The bound tanks spun and clattered, hissing and jumping. Then the second tank's nozzle cracked and the dance became more frenzied, smashing into crabs and sweeping and bouncing.

It was enough.

In the past Monk had strolled beaches covered with crabs that—once a seabird or stranger appeared—would clear in a heartbeat, crabs diving back into their sandy burrows. It was the same here. Those crabs nearest the commotion fled, climbing over their neighbors, jarring them into a panic. Soon a trickle became a stampede. The crabs, already riled up, fled on instinct.

The sea of crabs turned their tide—toward Monk—literally becoming a surging, churning wave of claws, climbing over one another to escape.

He fled back to the chestnut tree, pincers snapping at his heels.

He leaped and scurried up into the branches. One crab latched on to his boot. He cracked the shell against the trunk. It fell away. The pincer was still snagged tight to his boot. He felt the sharp edge cutting into his heel.


Below, the tide of crabs swept past, obeying some instinct, possibly tied to their annual migration patterns. They fled toward the sea.

Monk climbed up to join Graff. The researcher had one arm hooked around the trunk. He eyed Monk, then turned back toward the slice of open rock that lay around the mouth of the sea tunnel.

The pirates, six of them, were out of the tunnel, spread a bit, but they had ducked low with the pistol shot. Only now were they rising to their feet, unsure.

Then from the jungle, the roiling sea of crabs burst forth.

It struck the man closest to the jungle fringe. Before he could react, comprehend what he was seeing, they scrambled up his legs to the level of his thighs. He suddenly screamed, stumbling back. Then one leg gave out under him.

During combat, a fellow Green Beret had had his Achilles tendon cut by a bullet. He had dropped in the same crooked manner as the pirate.

The man fell to one arm, screaming.

He was overrun, crabs scrabbling across his writhing body. But his wails continued, buried under the mass. For a moment, he surged back up. His mask had been stripped away, along with his nose, lips, and ears. His eyes were bloody ruins. He screamed one last time and fell back under the tide.

The other pirates fled in horrified panic, back to the tunnel, vanishing away. One man was cut off from the tunnel, pinned out on a spur of rock jutting off from the sea cliff. The crabs swelled toward him.

With a final cry he turned and leaped off the cliff.

More screams echoed up from the tunnel.

Like water down a drain, the sea of crabs swirled into the mouth of the tunnel, spiraling away in a red tide of razored claws.

Monk found Graff panting heavily beside him, eyes unblinking.

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